The need for taxonomic investigations on Northern Indian Ocean blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus): implications of year-round occurrence off Sri Lanka and India

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Anoukchika D. Ilangakoon
Kumaran Sathasivam


The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is one of the most common cetaceans in the waters around Sri Lanka and in a worldwide context one of the highest low-latitude sighting rates for this species has been recorded in these waters. As genetic analyses, acoustic studies and even long-term sighting surveys for blue whales in these waters are limited, the taxonomic status and population affinities of these animals are not definitively known at present. Sighting records of this species were examined from the waters around Sri Lanka and stranding records from the coasts of both Sri Lanka and India in terms of seasonality of occurrence and it was found that the species is clearly present in these waters throughout the year. This, together with secondary data on certain morphological characteristics and behavioural anomalies, indicates that these waters are ecologically important to blue whales in the Northern Indian Ocean and questions are raised regarding the subspecific identity and population affinities of the animals in the region. It is not clear if they belong to either of the two subspecies currently recognised for the Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean region: their apparently non-migratory nature is akin to the pygmy blue whale B.m. brevicauda, while some morphological and behavioural characteristics are indicative of Antarctic blue whales of the subspecies B.m. intermedia. This raises the possibility of an entirely different or intermediate subspecies and the need to re-examine B.m. indica as a third subspecies in the Northern Indian Ocean. As clarifying their taxonomic status is important in the context of conservation and management, multi-disciplinary studies are urgently needed.

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